Grains - good or bad?

Grains:  Good or Bad?

There has been a lot of talk about grains, breads, pasta, crackers and various wheat based products being labelled ‘high carb’ and ‘bad for your health’.  Recent popularised diets are showing a growing trend towards removing grains from the diet; and it seems that bread is getting a bad reputation.

Yes, grains are often slow to digest.  Although this could be an advantage to create fullness and satiety. Yes, they are mildly acidic.  And yes, they can make your body hold a little more fluid (water); 1g carbohydrate can hold up to 1-4g water; but grains are also necessary for proper digestion, encouraging sleep, calming the nervous system, and satisfying hunger and taste.  It’s important to note; however, that ‘whole grains’ are the ideal choice and it is recommended that over 50% of your grain choices are whole grain.  Whole grains can help stabilize blood glucose levels, help remove cholesterol from the body and keep your digestive tract healthy and active. Numerous studies document the relationship between whole grain intake and reduced risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

The main fuel your body uses is carbohydrate including your brain, without them you risk mood instability, poor concentration, fatigue and poor energy levels.

Research shows women who consume more whole grains consistently weigh less than women who consume fewer whole grains, and people who eat whole grains for breakfast also tend to eat less at lunch and dinner. There is also evidence that diets high in fibre and whole grains help protect against heart disease. Conversely, some studies indicate a high intake of refined grains may increase risk for heart disease.

So what are these wholegrains?  Whole grains are made up of all 3 parts of the entire grain- bran, endosperm and germ.  Each part contains essential nutrients and phytonutrients.  So when you eat the whole grain you get the complete package bursting with: Protein to help with muscle growth and maintenance;  Fibre to help keep you healthy on the inside; Iron and Zinc to support mental performance and your immune system; Magnesium to reduce feelings of tiredness; B vitamins to help unlock energy thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and folate; antioxidants and phytochemicals to protect you from a number of health problems.

Diets high in whole grains tend to have a lower GI which helps to sustain your energy levels for longer, improving not only physical performance but mental performance, concentration and alertness.

So how do you know if it’s whole grain? Wholegrains can be ‘whole’ visible grains, or they can be milled, cracked or ground.  Other common whole grain ingredients to look for include:

  • Whole wheat
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • Popcorn
  • Brown or wild rice Whole Barley

Some other grains and cereals that are becoming more popular due to their similar nutrient content include:  Buckwheat, Quinoa, Sorghum and Amaranth.

Below is a summary of each whole grain and their nutrient benefits:

Whole barley is more nutritious than pearled barley, it has more fibre, twice the amount of calcium, three times the amount of iron and 25 percent more protein.  Barley has been known for its health benefits for the gall bladder and nervous system and is easy for the body to digest.


Contains 15-18 percent protein, is high in Vitamin C, fibre, and amino acids and has more calcium, magnesium and silicon than milk.  Amaranth has higher lysine, an important amino acid, than other grains. A gluten free wholegrain for those intolerant to gluten or wheat or those who are coeliac.


Buckwheat grains are made up of more starch than other seeds such as amaranth and quinoa.  Per 100g it contains 11-14g protein, 10g of fibre and is high in both B group complex vitamins such as riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3) and minerals magnesium and copper.


Corn is a unique phytonutrient-rich food that provides us with antioxidants as well as plenty of vitamins and minerals.  Corn also has a high ratio of insoluble-to-soluble fibre with an average of 4.6g fibre per cup.


Millet is a high protein, gluten free grain which also has good levels of magnesium, phosphorus, and insoluble fiber.


A high fibre grain which is also rich in beta-glucan which is a particular type of fibre that helps to lower levels of LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol. They are a rich source of iron, magnesium, Vitamin B1, phosphorus, selenium and manganese.  They have shown to help control blood glucose levels, decrease blood pressure, decrease cholesterol levels and some studies have shown assists with weight loss.


Quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) is a cousin of amaranth. It strengthens the whole body and has the highest protein content of any grain.  It is particularly high in calcium, is a very good source of iron, phosphorus and B and E vitamins. Great for vegetarians and vegans.


Brown rice is unmilled or partly milled and retains the outer bran and germs and as such can be called whole grain rice.  It is these outer layers that contain most of the nutrients.   White rice vs brown rice- calories are about the same; however in terms of nutrients brown rice has higher amounts of thiamine,  riboflavin, niacin, iron, magnesium and dietary fiber.  White rice is one of the quickest and easiest foods to digest and is quite low in dietary fiber- perfect for quick available energy.


Rye is relatively high in protein (~15%) and has more soluble fibre than wheat.  It contains a rich source of the B group Vitamins, Vitamin E and high in potassium.  Rye contains less gluten than wheat-based products.


Wheat contains a moderate amount of protein (~11-13%), and is high in insoluble fibre.  However, the health benefits of wheat varies greatly depending on the form in which you consume it.  The benefits are reduced if you consume bleached, highly processed, white flours such as in products as noodles, pasta, breads and baked goods like biscuits etc.  ‘Whole wheat’ products contain the bran, the germ as well as the endosperm and are rich in B group Vitamins, iron, zinc, calcium and folic acid.

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